Uniting Protestant Churches in the Netherlands. (the Netherlands)

Article excerpt

(Together on the way or "Samen op Weg"): Netherlands Reformed Church (NRC); Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN); Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Kingdom of the Netherlands (ELC)

Three Dutch churches are preparing for unification in the near future. Two of them (the NRC and RCN) have been participating in this process--commonly known as the "Together on the Way" process (TW process; in Dutch "Samen op Weg")--for about 40 years now. Fundamental decisions were taken in the 1980s; and in 1985 the ELC synod decided to join the process. One year later, after a careful process of consideration on all ecclesial levels, the joint meeting of synods accepted a declaration of Agreement. Agreement was expressed on all the main ecclesiological issues dividing the churches; the remaining differences are supposed to be acceptable within the one church.

In the 1990s important decisions have been taken regarding church order, and the organization of the churches' work-forces (personnel), in order to arrive at a full unification of the churches. This is now expected to take place at the beginning of the year 2004.

1. SOME STATISTICS

Some statistical data may give an impression of the significance of this process. It concerns the two major reformed denominations in the Calvinistic (Reformed) tradition in the Netherlands. About 16 million inhabitants live in the country. The NRC has about 1300 local congregations, numbering some 1.9 million members (including about 400,000 "other members", that is, non-baptized persons mentioned in the registration because their parents belong--or belonged--to the NRC). The RCN, which includes only baptized members in its statistics, counts about 660,000 members in 850 local congregations. Finally, the Lutheran partner church, with about 15,000 members in some 60 congregations, is one of the very small denominations in the Netherlands. The number of ministers active in the churches' congregations is about 1450, 890 and 30 respectively. Overall about I percent of the membership of the future united church will represent the Lutheran tradition.

On the local level many congregations, mainly from NRC and RCN backgrounds, have entered the stage of "federation" over the last decades. They cooperate as intensively as possible under present church law and, in practice, are living already as one congregation. The number of formally approved federations lies around 400, with another 400 situations showing warm cooperation but in a less intensive and formal way.

Out of 75 "classes" (presbyteries, that is, regional assemblies) in the NRC and RCN, 28 have opted for a federation, and another 22 cooperate closely. Out of 9 provincial assemblies, 6 have become federated also.

2. ORGANIZATION

In December 1999 an important development was implemented. The labour (work-force) organizations of the three churches were housed together in one national service centre, in Utrecht, and integrated as far as possible under present church law. In fact there is now one supportive apparatus for the three churches. This was the result of a huge organizational effort, since before that the three churches had very different structures, including varying offices located in six different cities--and, of course, the organizational "cultures" differed accordingly. Nine smaller common provincial service centres are part of the planning, with most of them already implemented.

3. CHURCH ORDER

After decades of ongoing but slow growth in cooperation, in the early 1990s a decision was taken to go for a common church order. This decision implied the choice for an eventual full, "organic" unity. The church order, or structure, will be based on that of the NRC. This means a relatively short basic constitution and, linked to that, a number of by-laws or "ordinances". The acceptance of these fundamental juridical texts requires two "readings" in synod. …